I live a very loud life these days. If any of you have ever visited the Rectory between the hours of five and seven in the evening, you have witnessed the sheer volume of my life. Between the baby who can only communicate frustration through crying and the kindergartner who is quite verbose nowadays, mixed in with the fatigue they both feel after a long day of school and nursery care, let’s just say these hours are full of a lot of noise. That is not to say that all of the noise is unpleasant – there is also the noise of laughter, storytelling, and shaking rattles. But our house in those hours is not the place where you would want set up a yoga mat and try to meditate.
I sometimes blame all the noise in my life on my beloved children. But the truth is I am as much a cause of the noise as they are. I am admittedly loud myself – whether barking instructions around the house, singing aloud, or simply talking my husband’s ear off. But I am not just loud in the house – I am also loud inside my head. My mind is in constant conversation: my to-do list, searching for ideas for a blog post, worrying about a sick friend or parishioner, trying to make plans for the weekend, processing a troublesome conversation, or wallowing in guilt for missed exercise or time in prayer. As loud as my outside world is, my inside world is probably much worse. Add Christmastime to the mix, and the loudness of my life reaches levels that can be incapacitating.
That is why I love Advent so much. In the lead-up to Christmas, the outside world bombards us with noise: Christmas songs on the radio, shopping to complete, parties to attend, gifts to wrap, houses to decorate, gatherings to host, cards to send, and loud relatives or friends to entertain. In contrast, the Church at this time asks us to do the exact opposite: slow down, take a breath, light some candles, breath in the fresh greenery, sing quiet, meditative songs, and worship in the soothing purple of anticipation. When the outside world is telling us, “Do more, buy more, run more, fuss more, stress more,” the Church says, “Do less, worry less, run less, talk less, be busy less.” The contrast between the two worlds is like night and day, and at a time of high stress, Advent becomes the Church’s greatest gift to us.
Into this contrast, we hear words from Mark’s gospel today. The text says, “Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake– for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” Many of us hear this text today with a sense of anxiety – of needing to keep anxious watch for the Lord. We might imagine the many apocalyptic movies, predictions, and preachers we have witnessed over the years and wonder whether Jesus really does want us to be more alarmed. Certainly the outside world would have us also be alert and anxious for the coming Christmas.
But I think the Church is saying something else today. Instead of an anxious alarm, our gospel lesson sounds like a gentle reminder to me. Keep awake, for you do not want to miss the quiet beauty of Advent. Keep awake, for you do not want to miss the gift of time set apart in these four weeks. Keep awake, for you do not want to miss the lead in to the manger, the dramatic retelling of why the manger is so important, and the grounding for this entire season.[i] Jesus’ words for us to “keep awake,” are not meant to be one more anxiety to pile on top of a mound of concerns. Jesus’ words for us to “keep awake,” are meant to help us focus on what is really important.
So make a commitment to come to church each Sunday in Advent and spend those Sundays in quiet worship with your church family. Grab an Advent calendar or devotional to help you more intentionally mark the days leading up to the manger. Or set up that Advent wreath at home, so that you might bring the quiet candlelight of prayer and meditation to your home. Whatever the discipline, choose something this Advent that will help you maintain the quiet peace you find here at Church and carry that quiet peace throughout your weeks leading up to Christmas. My guess is that noise of life will slowly fade into a quiet hum in the background – which is right where it should be. Amen.
[i] Lillian Daniel, “Pastoral Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. B, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 22.